Category Archives: Beach Days

Meeting a Manatee!

A couple of weeks ago, I embarked on my greatest adventure to-date! Inspired by my amazing friend Tricia’s solo trip to Belize (P.S. she just killed it in the NYC marathon!), I decided to take a selfie trip to FL to finally meet a manatee!

Crystal River, FL

Crystal River, FL

I’ve traveled by myself for business before, but this was my first solo vacation. And so “solo vacation” gets both added to and an simultaneously crossed-off the bucket list!

My adventure started with an evening flight into Tampa. My only creeper encounter happened at the car rental desk when the night clerk complimented by bag, asked where I was staying, and whether I was visiting my grandmother or aunt. I felt like little Red Riding Hood telling the Big Bad Car Rental Wolf to get lost.

My alarm was set for 3:30AM so I could get dressed, check-out and be on the road by 4:30 headed to my manatee adventure.  I was the only car on the pre-dawn road so I rolled down the windows, blasted some tunes, and squealed every time I saw a mile marker counting down the distance to Crystal River.

Three Germans joined me on my manatee adventure, and the Bird’s Underwater (http://www.birdsunderwater.com/) tour Captain swiftly nicknamed everyone in their group, “Germany” and me, “New York”. We were shown a manatee safety video which instructed us how to avoid frightening or interfering with their natural behaviors. Essentially, you have to wait for the manatees to approach you, and you can only pet them with one hand otherwise it’ll appear that you’re grabbing them.  So basically, it’s just like attracting dudes at bars.

Is this real life?

Is this real life?

Once the sun rose and provided enough visibility, we grabbed a noodle and jumped into the water. Captain John almost immediately spotted an baby manatee who was curious and interested in playing, so we all swam over and our manatee adventure began.

Snorkle Selfie

Snorkle Selfie

I’ve included a video of my manatee encounter at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeD7ojkXZzI

This was the greatest experience ever. I loved it. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone who isn’t afraid of sea-life. October is still off-peak so we only encountered about 6 manatees during our 5 hour adventure, but during the winter months the river and springs are full of 100+ manatees! I’ll be recruiting adventure buddies to join me for my next trip.

My solo vacation continued after a short drive down to Clearwater Beach. I checked into my beachside hotel and spent the afternoon lounging by the pool, crushing Orange Crushes, and reading trashy magazines.  Heaven!

Vessel of Pain

Vessel of Pain

Saturday I went solo kayaking in Honeymoon Island State Park. It was another first for me. I paddled out to Caladesi Island, which was only a 15 minute trip, but halfway there I was sure my arms were going to fall off and I would never make it. Fortunately, after some self-directed pep talks, I finally made it ashore. I parked my kayak, collected some shells, took a few more selfies (what else are you gonna do on a solo-cation?), and sent some S.O.S texts to friends to let them know I would be living on this island for the remainder of my life.

Island Life

Island Life

Eventually I found the strength for the return trip. Upon docking on dry land I felt so exhilarated by my physical accomplishment, I decided to hit the bars!

Later whilst sitting at the bar at Frenchy’s Rockaway Café for dinner, I noticed and inquired why the bartenders were all wearing face paint and zombie make-up. It turned out there was a  zombie pub crawl starting at a neighboring bar, and they were doing zombie make-up for the crawlers. Fate!!

Zombie'd

Zombie’d

I headed over to the neighboring bar, ordered a drink, and got zombied-up.  And that’s where my plan ended… ggrrrrrrreat.

By then my awkwardness was masked by beers and zombie blood, and thankfully a cute non-zombie asked me to play corn hole, then darts, and I ended up joining their group for the rest of zombie crawl.

Meeting locals… bar crawling with strangers/temp friends… swimming with manatees… By the end of the night and the end of the weekend, I felt like a champion solo-cationer!

This trip was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had this year. While I always love to have my friends, family, and travel buddies by my side, it feels incredibly brave and adventurous to stake out and explore on your own.  But next time you’re all invited! I promise.

 

Surf’s Up!

Another biggie gets checked off this week!

Surf Lessons: Last Saturday, I decided to drag out summer for another weekend and boarded a bus bound for the Jersey Shore.  My family gathered in Ocean City, NJ to celebrate three amazing things:

  • The kickoff of my Grandma’s 86th birthday-week
  • My niece’s first beach trip
  • And of course, my bucket list surf lesson

As always, it was amazing to spend time with my beautiful and supportive Grandma. She is literally the best. In preparation for my surf lesson, we discussed all of the other stupid/risky things I’ve done this year (running a ½ marathon without really training, jumping out of a plane, agreeing to go to Vegas with my parents, etc). Later that night we celebrated with cupcakes and carrot cake and sang Happy Birthday twice, which is a family tradition (one birthday wish just isn’t enough!).

 

Beach Day

Beach Day

My niece loved the beach! We built sand castles, which really just resembled sand mountains, and chanted, “fortify the castle” every time we made a trip for more water. We jumped waves, giggled ridiculously when the ocean splashed us, and listened to the lifeguards (that’s the rules). My aunt got us/Veda bubbles, and by the end of playtime Bubble Headquarters (me) was drenched in a sticky, soapy, grape-smelling goo.  My brother was most worried, that Veda would go destructo on another kid’s sandcastle, but instead she came up to my brother and asked, “Can I share my toys, Daddy? Pretty pretty please, can I share?” Kind of amazing.

 

Beach Girls

Beach Girls

My younger cousin was in town to celebrate birthday-week, and as I prepped for my surf lesson, we talked about my remaining Bucket List items and the likelihood that my surf instructor would be an 18-year-old bro rather than a 30-year-old stud. I hypothesized that I could be a surfing natural, and this first lesson may be the start of a new career as a professional surfer. Cowabunga!

On the way to the surf shop, I gave my mom specific instructions that she was not to bring up my bucket list in front of the surf instructor. Hard line.  Applause to her, she didn’t.

 

Slim

Slim

Turned out my instructor, Adam, was not 18 (thank goodness!) and I don’t think he was ‘bro’ either.  He grew up in OCNJ and went to college in CA. Now he’s a year-round instructor that spends the winters in Cali and the summers in OC. Oh, and he’s dreamy! Unfortunately, if I were to grant him a nickname it would be Slim, and that’s just not gonna work for me.

We wetsuit’d up, grabbed my board, and hit the beach with my mom/photographer trailing behind us. We did the standard on-sand practicing of the surfing pop-up motion, and I pretended to be confident that I could this.

 

Walk to the Water

Walk to the Water

The early September water felt amazing! Perfectly warm and free of the jellyfish babies that typically show up in August.  The tide was low and the wind was off-shore so conditions weren’t ideal for a newbie, but I trusted Adam to pick the right waves and not send me into a nose-dive.

My first few attempts were failures; I popped up with the wrong lead foot, I got whacked in the head by the board, and my chic pony tail came undone.  But eventually, I had success.

 

Surf's Up

Surf’s Up

Adam yelled, “You gotta pop up,” and I flew to my feet! My shock and elation at actually surfing caused me to scream the whole ride. Woohoo, I did it!